On May 9, the smallest and closest planet to the sun, Mercury, will slide across the face of the sun. And you can see it for yourself.
From our perspective here on Earth, we can see only two planets cross the face of the sun: Mercury and Venus (as they are the two most inner planets from our vantage point).
When a planet passes in front of a star (or even a moon crosses in front of a planet), it’s called a transit (this is also one of the methods astronomers use to find planets orbiting other stars).
The transit of Venus seen on June 6, 2012 in Tel Aviv.
While transits of Venus are quite rare (they occur once every eight years and then don’t occur for another 105), that’s not the case for Mercury. There are about 13 transits every 100 years for the tiny planet. The last time Mercury dotted the sun was in 2006; the next time will be be in 2019.
This year, Canada is in a prime location to catch the Mercury transit.
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From the coast of British Columbia to roughly Regina, Sask., the transit will have already begun when the sun rises. But east of there, the entire event — which takes more than seven hours —will be visible.
It’s important to remember that you should never look at the sun directly. But here are some ways you can watch the transit for yourself.
In order to see the tiny black disk of Mercury against the bright backdrop of the sun, you’ll need to look through a telescope with a special filter. Fortunately there are organizations around the country that have set up events with these types of telescopes.
You can watch the transit of Mercury in Montreal at the Space for Life, beginning at 7 a.m.
In Toronto, you can see it at several places. The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) will hold events at the Ontario Science Centre and the David Dunlap Observatory (in Richmond Hill) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. You can also catch it at York University from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
In southwestern Ontario, Western University will also hold an event from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
In Edmonton, you can watch it at the Telus World of Science beginning at 6 a.m.
In Sechelt, British Columbia, the Sunshine Coast Centre of the RASC will have its observatory open for the transit, after the sun rises at 5:30 a.m.
Check your local science centres and astronomical groups for other events near you.
If you’re unable to attend an event (or there isn’t one) near you, there’s always the internet.
Fingers crossed that the weather co-operates. It is quite interesting to see such a tiny planet, 100 million km away, in such an unusual way.